stdlib: Mission of the Workgroup for Free Open Standards

Free Open Standards are the solution to the difficulties in ensuring perennial and unrestricted access to information maintained through computer programs and to their interoperability. Such standards, often known as Open Standards, meet the goals of promoting interoperability and avoiding vendor lock-in.

If any party can veto the development, improvement, distribution, commercialization or use of implementations of the standard (whether it's a participant in the standardization process or not), or, through the imposition of unreasonable conditions, veto the improvement, distribution, and publication of the standard specification itself, we will call it a proprietary standard.

The power to impose such prohibitions may stem from several different sources.

An incomplete standard, involving reliance on technologies or knowledge not covered by the standard itself, enables whoever controls such technologies (say, some software infrastructure not covered by other Free Open Standards) or knowledge (say, ancillary protocols, file formats, cryptographic keys) to wield that power to selectively block implementations of the standard and their uses. Standards that rely on other proprietary standards or other secret information are effectively proprietary standards.

Another source of power are patents. Standards can and often are covered by patents. This by itself does not stop a standard from being Free and Open, although the existence of software patents is always an injustice. If the covering patents are licensed for anyone to implement, without restrictions, the patents don't make the standard a proprietary standard. But if the patent holder reserves the power to veto an implementation of the standard, or of derived versions thereof, for whatever reason, then it's a proprietary standard.

It's not possible to overemphasize the importance of Free Open Standards to encode and decode information published by governments to citizens, information exchanged between people or organizations, and even information stored for the long term.

Anyone who ever needed to access information in a document encoded in an undocumented format or a proprietary standard, when the software needed to decode it is not available, felt as hopeless as someone looking at text written in a language represented with symbols the person knows nearly nothing about. Think Egyptian hieroglyphs without a Rosetta stone.

Please help us spread information, fight these threats to society, and promote the use of Free Open Standards. Work with us and your national standardization bodies to ensure that international Free Open Standards are endorsed as national standards. Let's make sure new standards are Free Open Standards, and that such standards are widely adopted. This will contain and, in the long term, reduce the harmful effects to society of proprietary standards, such as induction, preservation and extension of monopolies.

We want your help to maintain in our Wiki information on what citizens, organizations, companies and governments in our region can do to promote the adoption of Free Open Standards, and to ensure that only Free Open Standards are approved and endorsed by national and international standardization bodies. We would like to ask you to add, correct and update information in it, and to join us in the mailing list.

Copyright 2007, 2008 FSFLA

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